Thomas v. Department of Developmental Services, et al., No. SC 18458 (Conn. 07/13/10).
Ruling: The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the employer's statutory lien entitled it to a credit for unknown, future workers' compensation benefits.
What it means: According to Connecticut law, an employer's statutory lien entitles it to a credit for unknown, future workers' compensation benefits that it may become obligated to pay a worker in the full amount of her proceeds from a judgment against or settlement with a third party.
Summary: A worker was injured when she fell on an icy walkway leading to her workplace. The worker filed for workers' compensation benefits and she asserted a third party liability claim. The employer did not file an action against the third party. The worker settled the action with the third party's insurer and paid the employer its statutory lien.
Connecticut law states that employers are entitled to a lien when an employee has received compensation for a work-related injury and the employee received a settlement from a third party. This provision, however, is silent as to its scope. The employer claimed that it was entitled to a credit for unknown, future workers' compensation benefits that it could become obligated to pay the worker, up to the full amount of her proceeds from her settlement with the third party. The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the employer was entitled to a credit for future benefits.
The court explained that it previously analyzed a statute that was a predecessor to the current statute as allowing a lien to apply to future benefits. It stated that although the legislature amended the statute twice since its previous holding, the legislature made no attempt to change the court's construction of the statute as applying to unknown, future benefits.
The court also mentioned that its decision was consistent with public policy that double compensation for an injury is to be avoided.
The court stated that it would have been less risky for the employer to file an action directly against the third party to protect its right of recovery for unknown, future benefits. However, this would have been more costly.
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October 4, 2010
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